The government’s effort to select areas to be designated as “comprehensive special zones” (sogo tokku) is now in full swing. A law to create such zones was enacted in June as part of the government’s economic growth policy. The Diet is now deliberating on another bill to create “reconstruction special zones” (fukko tokku) to be set up in areas devastated by the March 11 disasters.

In areas designated as comprehensive special zones, deregulation will be carried out, and tax and budget privileges will be provided. The zones consist of two categories — one aimed at nurturing industries that have strong international competitiveness and the other designed to heighten the vitality of local communities.

By the deadline at the end of September, various organizations, mostly local governments, applied for comprehensive special zone designation for 88 projects. An experts’ committee has short-listed 41 projects, over which hearings are now being made. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will announce the final selection by yearend. The candidate projects include such concepts as promotion of tourism, improvement of health, development of green energy sources, protection of the environment and promotion of ties with other Asian countries. It is expected that combining development of renewable energy sources with agriculture or tourism can play an important role in revitalizing local economies.

The idea of establishing special zones is most fitting in the wake of the March 11 disasters because there is a strong call among the people for building a society that relies on less energy consumption or has many dispersed economic centers.

In designing special zones, parties concerned should consider how to utilize the law that makes the power companies purchase in principle all the electricity generated by renewable energy sources at certain prices. It covers solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and small-scale hydraulic power generation. The idea of supplying all the electricity in special zones through renewable energy sources by utilizing the law should not be ruled out.

The government should select special zone projects that show a new direction for all of Japan. Projects in communities that are interested in mobilizing the autonomous, creative power of local residents and organizations should be encouraged.

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